There are no whip-wielding Belmonts here, but if you slapped an old Konami logo on Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles 2, it could likely pass for the real deal. In reality it's a fan game, a sequel to an earlier project released in 2013, which seemingly has Konami's blessing. That's great news for Castlevania fans, because aside from slot machines, the series hasn't had a new game since 2014's Lords of Shadow 2. Even better, from the hour or so I've played of The Lecarde Chronicles 2, it really feels like a classic Castlevania platformer, with some elements of the later Symphony of the Night-style games pulled in for good measure.
Moving and jumping have that Classicvania feel, which is probably why I'm so bad at it: I never had a knack for Castlevania's slow, heavy movement, and I've already died a few times to spikes and moving platforms that more adept players will breeze past. But I enjoy the structure of the game, which feels like a particularly open-ended 16-bit action-RPG. There's a central hub town and a few simple paths to take from there, with abilities and items to find that unlock progression to further areas.
The gatekeeping isn't very natural—I found a flute I needed to call a creepy boat keeper to shuttle me across a river sitting at the bottom of the town's well—but it feels gamey in a way I expect from Castlevania.
You do have some choice in where you go first, as well as equipment to find and buy that affect some basic stats like attack, defense, luck and crit. There are, of course, candlesticks and other background decor to destroy that drop the hearts that power sub weapons like the knife and the cross. And yes, there's a mansion. It's not so big that you'll be spending the majority of the game in it, and from what I've seen Lecarde Chronicles 2 never approaches the complex interconnectedness of a Symphony of the Night-style game. But its structure actually seems more rare, at this point: while Metroidvanias are all the rage, freeform RPG platformers with distinct, linear areas are in short supply.
The Lecarde Chronicles 2 really gets the hokey vibe of the Castlevania games right, too. I love the intro, which includes some bang-on VO (from the actor who played Alucard!) and writing that's just a little stiff, like it was translated and compressed to fit within the character limits of a Super Nintendo cart. It's perfect.
It's an amazing accomplishment for what is nearly a one-man team. "Mig" is credited with direction, programming, graphics, animation, and level design, with scenario design and music (and voice acting) from Jeffrey Montoya, and a small list of other contributors helping with text, voice work and translation. For a free fan game, the only project that's impressed me more was Metroid 2 remake AM2R, which Nintendo shut down shortly after its release last summer. As I wrote then, fan games are illegal but also a strong part of the culture of PC gaming.
Without fan games, the upcoming Sonic Mania almost certainly wouldn't exist. Perhaps the same will happen for Castlevania one day, as Konami focuses on Metal Gear and pachinko machines. While newer platformers like Hollow Knight and Ori and the Blind Forest have taken inspiration from Symphony of the Night's design, Lecarde Chronicles is proof that there are still players who love classic Castlevania's particular flavor of deliberate movement and level design.
I didn't grow up playing Castlevania, which explains why it took me five tries to nail the pattern of the giant evil tree I fought in a cemetery. But I did beat it eventually. For Castlevania diehards, it'll come more easily, and probably with a big nostalgic grin. This is one of the things I love about PC gaming: When dedicated fan games from long-dormant series appear out of nowhere, it can feel a little bit like magic.
You can download The Lecarde Chronicles 2 right here.